There are currently over 13,000 people incarcerated in NSW prisons, however more than 18,000 cycle in and out of prison each year. Within this population there is a wealth of creative talent that currently has only haphazard opportunities for development, production and performance. The experience of imprisonment has the capacity to both restrict and produce immense creativity. This dichotomy is now well recognised in multiple international jurisdictions where significant energies and funds have been directed into channelling the creative potential in the criminal justice system. Both the US and the UK have for many decades run substantial community led arts programs that seek to support the development of genuine creative pathways outside of the criminal justice system. There is a well established research base that points to the transformative capacity of arts and music in prison environments in terms of breaking entrenched cycles of imprisonment and allowing skilled artists and musicians behind bars the opportunity to pursue both a practice and an identity that exists entirely outside of the criminal justice system

Songbirds: Ballads Behind Bars is a new Community Restorative Centre project, facilitating songwriting and arts workshops inside prisons in NSW, as well as providing post-release arts pathways for people wanting to pursue music and art on the outside. This paper will explore the role of the arts in this context and use examples from the workshops to unpack the potential for both reintegration, and the production of beautiful art, in prison and post-release environments.


Mindy Sotiri
Community Restorative Centre
Program Director

Biography: Mindy Sotiri (PhD, BSW) is the Director of Advocacy, Policy and Research at the Community Restorative Centre in Sydney. She has worked as a social worker, advocate, researcher and activist in the community sector for the last twenty years. For most of this time she has focused on the criminal justice system, reintegration and post-release. In 2016 she completed a Churchill Fellowship exploring best-practice in post-release. She serves on the Justice Health Board, and is also a member of the High Risk Offender Assessment Committee. When she is not thinking about prisons and release, she writes and plays songs that are most regularly and reliably enjoyed by drunk tired women in the inner west of Sydney.


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